That singular embrace is about as complex as it gets: romantic, aggressive, tender and ominous all at once.
“It’s one of the most iconic images of that era,” says Alexander, who hung the photo alongside other portrayals of hugs.
But looking through the show, it becomes clear that the photographer often determines the viewer’s impression of a couple through formal, compositional decisions.
In Brassaï’s What really sets the show apart from more typical photography exhibitions is the inclusion of dozens of snapshots taken by anonymous shutterbugs.
When selecting images to include, Alexander explains, body language was key, coded in a wide range of gestures.
In a 1948–49 black-and-white photo by Louis Faurer, a woman busily tends to her partner’s comb-over in the city streets, seemingly unaware of the camera, while in La Toya Ruby Frazier’s (2005) a couple sits together, his arm comfortably slung over her shoulder, her hands resting on his leg.
A good example is Wolfgang Tillmans’s , 2002, which shows two young men engrossed in an embrace. The subjects are almost in the viewer’s own space, with little room for air (or anything else) in the frame — a composition that greatly heightens the intensity of their experience for the viewer.
“We were consciously thinking about different forms of coupling today, trying to make the show feel very relevant to this moment that we are in, as people are redefining what it is to be in a relationship,” Alexander says of the inclusion of the Tillmans photo.
“We thought it was a great time in our society to do an exhibition about human connectedness,” Alexander says.